Thursday, March 11, 2010

abortion and veganism

and a whole lot more, too...

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to widespread acceptance of abolitionist veganism is the rift between progressive vegans and progressive omnivores (yes, conservative vegans exist, but that's the shortest story ever written). The fact of the matter is that welfarism, "happy meat" and cage-free free-range hoof-massaged bedtime-storied animal agriculture are en vogue in a major way. Walk into any grocery store, be it Wal-Mart or the mom & pop hippie co-op, and there's going to be a laser beam show around a display of "free-range" crap and a picture book you can buy to show your children where your eggs, wanting factory farms, actually come from and blah blah blah.

This is not news to anyone reading this, and I think it should be easily understandable why this is the case. It's shiny! It's trendy! It's meat! It doesn't actually require ethics! I have no problems with laser beams. I have no problems with picture books. While I do have very serious problems with welfarism/"happy meat"/etc., that is another topic for another day, and believe you me, on that day, it's gonna be long. But briefly, both welfarism and abolitionism seek to answer the problem of animal oppression. Welfarism calls for regulation of animal agriculture, while abolitionism calls to end it entirely. Bigger cages versus no cages. With me? (For more, Gary Francione's outline)

Welfarism has taken over the hearts and wallets of many a progressive soul. At this point, I'm not sure if more progressives eat happy meat than are simply happy to eat any meat, regardless of how it was produced, but either way, I believe and will argue that consumption of animal products is directly at odds with the values and ideals of the progressive movement. I do not think you can call yourself progressive if you eat any kind of animal product, be it a McDonald's hamburger or the milk of your pet goat. Likewise, I do not think you can call yourself vegan if you are not progressive.

The issue of veganism and abortion comes up surprisingly frequently - I know to any vegan blogger that's a cliche, but it really does surprise me. The jist of it is that vegans don't want to kill innocent animals, so why would they want to kill innocent fetuses? If pigs and chickens deserve to live, don't blastulae? Or something like that. I won't give too much space to the whole "animals have sentience in the same way humans do, fetuses do not" thing. It's dumb. I am not dumb. You are not dumb. The issue of veganism is not life itself - if that were the case every vegan would be anti-choice, anti-death penalty, anti-war, and pro-having a dozen babies per person (and damn, we'd be the most consistent movement ever). The issue of veganism is personhood - the idea that all sentient beings, human or non, deserve at the very, very least the right to belong to themselves and no other, to be in control of their lives and happiness - and here is the link between veganism and progressivism that can't be ignored.

Why do women deserve the rights to abortion access? Because a woman is a sentient being. She can make her own decisions and deserves being able to control her own reproductive life. A fetus is not a person and therefore does not have rights. The true issue, I think, is not just that abortions be legal and safe - abortion access is only how the woman's rights as a person manifest themselves. A woman who wants to give birth deserves quality medical care for herself and her child, her child deserves quality education, and a couple deserves the right to make their own decisions just as much and for the exact same reasons - they are all people, all sentient beings, and all therefore worthy of ethical consideration.

Likewise, why do all people deserve the rights to marry? Because, gay or straight, all couples are sentient beings. They all belong to themselves, and if they want to get married, great. That doesn't harm anyone else. Abortion doesn't harm anyone else. If someone wants to get married, have a baby, not have a baby, dance naked in their backyard or anything else that doesn't harm anyone else, fiddle-dee-dee. They're all sentient beings and deserve a shot at their own happiness and well-being, without interference from anyone else (as long as they're not harming anyone else).

This is the principle behind all progressive causes. Why do workers deserve living wages and decent working conditions? Because workers are sentient beings and thus have the rights to a decent life, and money is not sentient. If one is to believe in any of these causes - reproductive rights, marriage equality, worker rights, suffrage, whatever - one must understand that the root is that all sentient beings deserve life, not just to be alive but to have control over their own happiness and to not be the property or pawn of any other person. This applies regardless of someone's being male or female, gay or straight, rich or poor, white or brown. When it comes to fundamental rights like these, they're all equal. They're sentient beings all, and holding the arbitrary specifics of race, gender, class and so on as means of value or worth constitutes racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of oppression, respectively.

We've established that ethical consideration hinges on the most fundamental element of being human, sentience, rather than on arbitrary characteristics like race. This is why you'll meet so many progressives who simply say that they believe in "human rights" as an umbrella term covering all manner of more specific issues, and why the Human Rights Campaign is called exactly that and not Same-Sex Marriage Campaign or even Equality Campaign or what have you. We can all think of some speaker for some progressive issue crying out "We are all human!" as a way of furthering their cause, because whatever their cause is depends on what we have in common as people.

But what about what we have in common as earthlings and sentient beings? As I said before, most progressives don't see animals as categorically worthy of ethical consideration, or if they do, they're still on another level than humans. I'm not saying that humans and animals are the same. There's no point to giving chickens the right to marry, or pigs the right to vote, for example, any more than there is point to giving men the right to safe abortion. Such rights have nothing to do with the one basic right to not be another's property, the way the same rights do when applied to gays and lesbians, adults, and women. The rights to vote and marry extend across all humanity because we all deserve to be heard, loved, and protected. Shouldn't the right to not be killed for another's gain extend across all animalkind, humans included? Don't we all deserve, before anything else, to just live and be our own?

If you say no, why? Because non-human animals are a different species than us? Species is an arbitrary characteristic, like race, and someone being a different race doesn't mean you can take away their right to vote, so if you think racism is wrong, speciesism should be wrong in your mind as well. Is it because animals are less intelligent than us? Intelligence (or at least the capacity for it) is also an arbitrary characteristic. Unless you are also in favor of testing cleaning supplies on babies and mentally retarded people, intelligence should be out. So is it because it's just the natural order of things or the way things have always been? According to many people in many points in time, it's the natural order and tradition for women to be inferior to men. You should be convinced of that if you're convinced that tradition is sufficient justification for animal exploitation.

Progressivism is about universal rights and rejects holding specifics like sexual orientation or nationality as markers for worth. Why, then, does something about universal rights not apply universally? Why are specifics like race not okay, but specifics like species are? Progressivism, if veganism is not part of it, does not agree with itself.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! The arguments expressed in the second-last paragraph, I always find very helpful.

    You can read more on the issue of abortion and veganism on my blog here: